SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT: SOCIAL, ENVIRONMENTAL, AND ECONOMIC GROWTH

We must move toward a low carbon economy because there is no planet B.
José María Figueres, Former President of Costa Rica

In an ancient Sri Lankan Blessing, a favorable environment (may the rains come in time), economic prosperity (may the harvests be bountiful), social stability (may the people be happy and contented), and good governance (may the king be righteous), were clearly identified as key prerequisites for making development more sustainable. There is great wisdom in the elements of this blessing. 

For many years the prosperity of a country has been based on its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which measures the monetary value of all goods and services that are produced within a nation during a given period and sold to consumers, governments, investors or are exported. In a nutshell this means that GDP represents the part of the population’s well-being that comes from the consumption of goods and services. In order for the GDP of a country to grow, the people must consume more and more. There are multiple criticisms of the use of GDP as an indicator of a country’s prosperity. For example, if a country engages in war or suffers from natural disasters, monetary transactions will increase thus leading to a higher GDP. If a small portion of a population spends extravagantly, but many do not have the resources to spend, the GDP may show growth but at the cost of great inequality. According to Richard Heinberg, “Calculating a nation’s overall health according to its GDP makes about as much sense as evaluating the quality of a piece of music solely by counting the number of notes it contains”.

GDP takes into account a single bottom line – economic growth. This means that no externalities such as the cost of natural resources, just wages, etc. are taken into account.  Many economists, as well as specialists in other fields, are now advocating for the triple bottom line – social, environmental and economic growth. A planet with finite resources cannot sustain perpetual growth. Naomi Klein asserts that “our current economic model is based on the faulty premise that nature is limitless, that we will always be able to find more of what we need, and that if something runs out it can be seamlessly replaced by another resource that we can endlessly extract.”

Our current economic system is no longer viable. It has led to extreme wealth for some countries and individuals at the expense of many of the least developed countries (LDCs) and a great majority of the populations of both the LDCs and industrialized countries. The question we must ask is “How can people work, individually and collectively, to challenge the current all-pervasive consumer society which is destructive of both people and the planet in such a way that it truly leads to building God’s kin-dom on earth?” (based on material from Caroljean Willie, SC)

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